“You have to have a support system when things go crazy, which happens a lot in the medical field,” says Karen Phongsavanh, a BS nursing student at Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU). “SWAU is that system. They take care of people.”
“I contemplated SWAU when looking to get my LVN degree,” says Phongsavanh. “I chose a different school then. I wish I had chosen SWAU sooner.”
“Early on, one of my professors stood in front of our class and said, ‘I want each and every single one of you to graduate, and not only that, but you’ll be the best nurses out there,’” she recalls. “My professors believe in all of us, and they don’t just want us to graduate, they want us to succeed.”
Growing up in a Laotian home, Phongsavanh was most familiar with the Buddhist faith. She first learned about Seventh-day Adventists through her work at Texas Health Huguley Hospital Fort Worth South, a local hospital managed by AdventHealth. SWAU is a part of the Seventh-day Adventist educational system, and while Christianity is a central part of the culture, she feels that anyone is welcome.
“Honestly, having a different religious background doesn’t matter,” says Phongsavanh. “It’s a wonderful school with wonderful people, and they’ll get you through your nursing training and into your career, and you’ll find a new and supportive family in the process.”
Phongsavanh shares that although the regular prayers before and after class weren’t something she was used to, she quickly learned to deeply appreciate the routine.
“No matter what, or even if, you believe,” she says, “with everything going on in the world today, prayer is good for everyone’s heart and soul, regardless of whether it’s a regular part of our lives outside of class.”
Phongsavanh says every part of the program has benefited her life beyond the professional aspect, including the required wellness course.
“Wellness was really great for us because nursing school isn’t easy, and that class made us laugh,” she explains. “It offered opportunities to develop healthy new habits and to see the world differently than we had before. Our professor knew we were tired, and he used the coursework and class time to support us. It truly gave us the courage, energy and motivation we needed.”
Personal encouragement beyond academics is something Phongsavanh says is prevalent at SWAU. The open-door policy adopted by the professors means she knows there’s always someone who will listen.
Phongsavanh has always considered herself a spiritual person, but since attending SWAU, she finds she spends much more time praying and being with God. “When you don’t talk to someone on a regular basis, it’s hard to start a conversation. The same is true of God. It was hard to get started, but thanks to my professors and classes at SWAU, I’ve learned how. It has added so much to my life.”
“I have never had the level of support anywhere that I do here,” Phongsavanh comments.
That support was shown again when, in March 2021, she tragically lost her 13-year-old stepson to cancer. “As soon as they heard about what had happened, my professors contacted me to ask how they could help,” she shares.
“Walking onto this campus for the first time, I felt like someone was hugging me--that I was cared for and seen,” she explains. “At SWAU, I found the God and family I didn’t know I needed. It’s the perfect place for me to heal. I wonder, all the time, why I didn’t come here in the first place.”